Using Body Fat Measurements to Design a Fitness Training Program

Before you begin your fitness program, you'll need to measure your starting point

Credit: Flickr/skamille

Measuring your fitness keeps you on track to succeed

You can greatly increase your odds of succeeding with a fitness training program by taking some simple measurements before you even begin to work out

My wife and I have been pretty focused on our new baby the last couple of months, and I’ve let my fitness and nutriton slip. I had planned on this and am okay with it. I’ve still managed to get in one or two runs, paddleboard once or twice and a couple of strength workouts every week without being too anal about scheduling or planning my workouts.

But last week I decided that after Labour Day weekend things were going to change. I want to get back into competing in ultra endurance events next year so I need to begin preparing this fall. Come September 7 my spouse and I are going to start “the Regime”.

Here’s my process for designing an exercise and nutrition program to get into top shape.

Know Why You’re Working Out

If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?

I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before. Setting a fitness goal gives you incentive to stick to an exercise program. Make sure you shoot for something you’re passionate about. My goal is to race to my fullest potential in events lasting 3-12 hours. My wife wants to shed the last 10 pounds of her pregnancy weight and lower her body fat.

Don’t worry about anyone else, choose a goal that speaks to YOU. After all, it’s your life. You get to choose how you want to live it.

Even though our goals aren’t the same, we both still want to improve our eating and by working together we strengthen our ability to maintain a good nutrition program.

What Gets Measured Gets Managed

The next step is to determine your starting point. Doing this will inform how you’re going to track changes, and by measuring your progress you’ll keep yourself honest. You’ll know if your program is working (as long as you’re following it). If things aren’t working you’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments.

Two metrics that will apply to almost anyone’s goals are body fat levels and girth measurements.

Knowing how much muscle and fat you’re carrying is important for performance and for health. And these measurements are a more accurate indicator of health than body weight alone.

I had a friend who’s a trainer measure my body fat using a simple skinfold test. It’s easy to do as you can see from these instructions for the 7 site method. All you need are relatively inexpensive calipers (don’t use the guide that comes with the calipers). Once you have the measurements for each site plug them into this body composition calculator and you’ll have a fairly accurate measurement of your body fat level.

Using a simple tape measure you can also measure different body parts to keep track of any changes there. At a minimum, measure your abdomen and your hips.

The Next Step

My body fat came out to 13% which is pretty good compared to the general population. But to perform well I’m going to have to drop to under 10%.

Since I have athletic goals there are a few more assessments I’ll share with you in my next blog post. For now, start with these basic body measurements to give you a baseline of your current fitness level.

The next step will be to use this information to put together a plan to reach your goals.

Body Fat Classifications

To give you an idea of where you stand, compare your body fat results to this chart.